First Taste: Craft Pizza
Wicker Park isn't lacking in counter-service pizza. Santullo's does a fine job of New York-style slices on North Avenue, and a stone's throw away is Roxie's by the Slice. Craft Pizza, located on a quiet stretch of Damen away from the restaurant fray, has its work cut out for itself when it comes to a). standing out and b). earning a reputation as a deserving destination. Located in the bygone Bagel on Damen space (and later some short-lived hot dog spot), Craft Pizza strives to elevate the norm when it comes to Wicker Park's counter-service pizza scene. But does it succeed?
Craft Pizza is quite charming and cute. It's as simple as can be; a small dining room surrounded by tall windows overlooking Damen, with a singular counter and a partially open kitchen where diners can spy pizzaiolos slinging dough. A massive menu board takes up much of the south wall, while a riff on a Benjamin Franklin quote serves as inspiring art on another: "Pizza is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." It's a comfortable, family-friendly environment that may very well be just what this neighborhood needs and deserves, especially considering the surfeit of condos and family homes in the direct vicinity.
The thing is, Craft Pizza should be more of a takeout destination for people. The space does not feel conducive to ordering from the counter and dining in, since it's a little stark and awkwardly casual in a dine-in format. The other red flag is the overwhelming array of pizza options for such a small operation. Perhaps by trying to please everybody, they stretched themselves too thin, because our Wicker Pork pizza was a lackluster attempt to modernize a Hawaiian pizza. Sloppily topped with cured and smoked Canadian bacon, onions, and pineapple, every ingredient tasted bland and felt overly dried out, like they cooked a minute or two too long in the oven. This would make sense, because the crust was also too dry and chewy, with the texture of a loaf of bread that had been held in a bread basket for an hour.
There's potential here, and Craft Pizza's attempt to outdo the neighborhood norm is laudable, but there's work to be done yet.
- Matt Kirouac